Postdocs' (In)Dependence

William Tivol tivol at
Thu Mar 14 11:15:34 EST 1996

Alexander Berezin (berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA) wrote:
: If provision for PDF salaries will be eliminated from NIH/NSF/
: NSERC grants the saved amount can cover exactly the same number of 
: postdocs' salaries.

	I am sure that there will not be a $-for-$ transfer, and that
there will be fewer PDF's funded--especially in times of tight budgets.
I am not sure that this is necessarily bad.  Keeping the number of PDF's
roughly equal to the number of available permanent jobs will prevent ha-
ving as many highly-trained unemployed scientists as there are now.  There
should be a few extra PDF's since not all the PD's will necessarily end
up in science--some may go into law, etc.

: OK, if you are for the competition model, let people compete
: on their own as early as possible. Present PDF positions
: (profs compete for grants, not posdocs) does indeed shields
: Postdocs from competition.

	Given that there are a large number of applicants for each PDF,
there is, indeed, competition in the present system.  The criteria would
be different for the IPDF's, but, again, this could be arranged so that
the most talented candidates could be selected.  This is not too different
from such processes as scholarship and career development awards, and would
rely on evaluations of course work, thesis, etc.--i.e. track record.  Fur-
thermore, the successful awardee could work with any prof willing to be a
sponsor, which allows for a change of field, etc.  N.b. I think a track
record evaluation is preferred for IPDF, although I am still not convinced
it is best for research grants.

: > A lot of people who are now getting a salary line from a
: > grant may find they are not comptetive for such new "grants". It will
: > be very hard to switch fields (what is the liklihood you will get a
: > postdoc grant (and be able to write a competitive proposal) in a new
: > field you were not trained in.

	If the IPDF were given based on track record, there would be no
need to write a research proposal, although possibly some information
about the candidate's proposed field would be required.  If the awardee
and a prospective sponsor agree, then that should be all that is needed.
Furthermore, there should be no requirement that a sponsor be named prior
to getting the award.  That way, the successful candidate could shop around
once the award was given.

: > Third, there would inevitably be some time limit such as 5 years out of
: > your Ph.D. So those people who didn't get a "job" after their second
: > postdoc would likely be out of luck.

: Yes, as an interim measure a propaosal to limit otherall 
: duration of PDF eleigibility to, say, 2 terms of 2-year
: each is reasonable (just twice as little as US President
: 8 year maximum). I think it is only fair. 

	There might be no hard-and-fast limit.  Since I changed fields
from physics--my PhD--to biochemistry--13 years postdocs--I can see the
benefit of allowing extended time for PDF's.  There should be some con-
sideration of the length of time since the PhD, but an excellent candi-
date should not be denied simply because of this.

: That's why changes should be tried on experienatl
: basis to what really works, and what doesn't.

	This is definitely true, and quite easy to implement.  Funding
IPDF's at a low level and following up to see their productivity vs that
of the traditional PDF's for, say, 5 years, would accomplish this.

: Paradoxically, so far in this respect academic system 
: is highly resistive to the idea of experimentation 
: (and these are people who call themselves scientists !).

	This is the difference between the academic experimenting on
someone/something else and being the subject of the experiment. :-)
				Bill Tivol

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